Last Man Standing

Year 1996

Bruce Willis as  John Smith
Christopher Walken   as Hickery
Bruce Dern as Sheriff Ed Galt
David Patrick Kelly as Doyle
Director - Walter Hill
Screenwriters - Walter Hill
  - William Wisher, Jr.    
Screen Story - Akira Kurosawa
  - Ryuzo Kikushima
Musical Score - Ry Cooder

Wow! What a list of credentials! Bruce Willis, a.k.a. Mr. Action Adventure Guy, Christopher Walken, a.k.a. Mr. Menacing Aura Personified, Bruce Dern, a.k.a. Mr. Snidely Deadly, Walter Hill, a.k.a. Mr. Shoot-em-up-bang-bang Director, Ry Cooder, a.k.a. Mr. Moody Music for a Steel Guitar, and based on a story by Akira Kurosawa, Mr. Samurai Western Cinema. What could go wrong? Ask Mr. Kurosawa as he spins in his grave,

To start with, the story was only brought to screen for the first time by Mr. Kurosawa in 1961 as Yojimbo You've actually got to go back to 1929 for the original story. It was a pretty decent novel by Dashiell Hammett called Red Harvest.

But this sets up the disconnect. Walter Hill didn't know his source material. He saw a movie by Kurosawa and decided he'd improve upon it. Someone even got paid to write a novel called, Last Man Standing. I hope Hammett's estate's lawyers get these clowns for plagiarism.

If that wasn't enough, after the novel Red Harvest and the movie Yojimbo came another movie called For a Fistful of Dollars that took the Hammett plot, via Kurosawa, in a Old West direction. All of this happened before this Last Man Standing (LMS) nonsense got committed to celluloid.

What's the law of threes? One is good. Two can be as good as but never better than one. Three is a diaper stain? Is that how it goes? Because this movie, at least, follows that rule.

The plot? Someone from out of town named John Freaking Smith (Bruce Willis) stumbles into town and finds two factions warring against each other while ignoring the casualties of the citizens who have to live through the crosses, double-crosses, re-alignments of allegiances, and bullets. The protagonist plays the factions against each other in order to destroy the corruption.

Kurosawa took the protagonist and made him a Ronin. He also kept the warring factions limited to two families and introduced a shady saloon keeper, a mortician, and a spin on the damsel in distress. Also, a bell and a dog with a human hand in its mouth, but these touches were eschewed by later directors.

Eastwood added little but the locale, which he chose to be the southwestern United States, and some strange shoot-out in a cemetery. But, in a good move on Eastwood's part, he chose to not muck with Kurosawa's formula.

Enter LMS. Willis' character is supposed to be laconic, but that doesn't mean somnambulistic. Sheriff Ed Galt (Bruce Dern) makes up for Smith's lack of energy by shouting every one of his lines hysterically.

Finally, there's Hickery (Christopher Walken) who tries to be menacing. Walken's at his most menacing when he's being himself. When he smiles in a friendly way, your blood curdles. But when he acts tough, he looks dyspeptic.

Perhaps the movie would have been better if I hadn't seen the other two and also read the book. Perhaps not.

Opening scene, Smith drives his car into town. He gets bullied and told, "Complain to the Sheriff. Ha-ha." I don't get the need for the bullying or Bruce Dern's screeching his lines.

Smith decides to stay. There are a lot of people running around the town. Almost all of them are gang members. Where do they all sleep? Do any of them bathe? Where does the food come from? All of the underworld is there, but seemingly with no other purpose in life than to provide fodder for Smith's bloodlust.

There are two women in the whole town and Smith beds one of them. No one notices.

But everyone wants to hire Smith for their gang, despite the fact that he's done very little to warrant the attention other than be belligerent. Oh, he did pull out his twenty-shooters (reloading is for real guns) and make a mess out of panes of glass.

There's nothing cerebral. There's no slow build like Hammett and Kurosawa achieved. It's all slam, bang, noise for the sake of noise action.

About a half hour or so into the movie, Hickery shows up in time to get revenge on his turncoat South of the Border allies by blasting apart a Mexican bar with a Thompson sub-machine gun. The kind of gun with the cool drum of bullets instead of a clip. The kind with a kick that send the first shot high and then moves up until you're shooting the ceiling after about the six bullet. The kind that poses no sort of handling problem for a man like Hickery. He can pick up the monster machine, turn, aim, fire, and hold the fire steady faster than any three men can draw pistols and shoot back. I'm tellin' ya I saw it happen!

For some reason the screen went blank at that point. Oh, yeah, I'd ejected the DVD at that point.

The villains are the most petulant group of juveniles in existence. If Smith had left them alone, they would've collapsed from entropy. Not only couldn't they figure out how to make a telephone call once the switchboard operator left, they didn't even think to try, for crying out loud.

In the end, or at least until I ejected the DVD, if everyone had died it would have been a happy ending. I did see the last couple of minutes once and Smith lives. I'm not sure if Hickery does. Even when only seeing two minutes of it, you hope that the fate of all of the characters is a dirt nap.

Compare this to the book where the finale between the moral and immoral is a battle of wits and wills, or to Yojimbo where the symbols are a Ronin's kaitana and a bully's pistol, or to Eastwood's pistol versus the villian's rifle in For a Fistful of Dollars and you'll find that each is slightly weaker than the previous but all are far better than Last Man Standing.

Watch Yojimbo as a must. Watch Fistful of Dollars as a not too shabby movie. Read Red Harvest if you want one of Hammett's best. (Hammett's best is still not as good as Chandler's worst.) But, for the sake of your last meal that wants to be digested in peace, do not watch the stomach churning Last Man Standing. And I'd rather read Run, Spot, Run! than whatever novel came from this LMS dreck.

The only good thing about the movie is the music. Ry Cooder can do no wrong.

Blasphemies reign and chick flick potential borders on zero, even if Smith did rescue the damsel in distress without killing her. I'm not sure if he did because I'd ejected the movie prior to that point. Mifune and Eastwood did in their respective flicks.

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